3 December 2023

Books and Voices

 It is such a natural and universal thing that we do not notice it; although Catherine Pickstock wrote a fine book on it. I mean: the essentially oral rather than literary nature of Liturgy (After writing. Blackwell 1998). Although we know that the officiant is, almost certainly, reading from a text, we accept as normative the fact that he doesn't keep on telling us this. Nor, usually, does he inform the addressee of his book-references, or belabour him with source-information.

Most readers will also be aware that, before the drastic reduction in the number of prefaces in the 'Gregorian Sacramentary' to about 10, many if not most Uses offered at least one preface for every single Mass. In the Corpus Praefationum (Brepols 1980), no fewer than four are provided for S Birinus alone.

S Birinus? He is a local saint who is currently in my mind because his festival is approaching. It used to be on December 3, but now it comes on December 5, and S Francis Xavier has sole possession of December 3. He ... Birinus ... set up his episcopium  at Dorchester on Thames, in the remains of a Roman town which sits astride the confluence of the Thames and the Thame, and the Roman road linking Calleva (Silchester) and Lactodurum (Towcester). 

It was in the Thames that S Birinus baptised King Cynegils of Wessex (635).

Incidentally ... or BTW ... the nut-cases who 'reformed' the Roman Rite in the 1960s chose to lay it down as an unbreakable rule that the Preface must never contain a request. Most earlier prefaces, however, did precisely that ... of the four prefaces for S Birinus, three contain requests. 

I give now the text (and a partial translation) of a Preface which seems to me to put a (red) 'literacy' toe inside an 'orality' door.

"VD ... aeterne Deus. Qui beatum Byrinum confessorem tuum nobis doctorem donare dignatus es, per quem a tenebris ignorantiae liberati, aeternae lucis fieri filii meruimus. Qui, quod ore docuit, exemplo monstravit, cuius vita moribus effulsit egregiis, atque miraculis illuxit. Quae etiam antiquis libris leguntur inscripta, etiam nova cotidie videntur in facto*. Cuius praesenti patrocinio gaudentes, tuam super nos praedicamus gratiam abundantur effusam. Per Christum."

[*Miracles read written in ancient books, even now are daily seen in deed.

A nice piece of Latin, yes? Deftly deployed alliteration?

The area had a significant Recusant population: Fr John Osman has beautified a tiny Victorian gothic church down by the river; you would need to travel far to find anything as lovely.

1 comment:

Banshee said...

I wonder if the preface was from the shrine, and if they had a copy of Birinus' Life or several lives? I mean, if it was originally local, maybe they had a cause going for the Vita author?